Kelly's 2011 Alaska Journey

Day 17 - Monday, 6/6

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Coldfoot
camp
We've been lucky on this trip in many ways. One that comes to mind in Coldfoot is that the mosquitoes aren't as bad as they could be. True, we've had some bites, some more than others. But I was expecting swarms of them attacking whenever skin was exposed. It must be the cooler temperatures that's keeping their numbers down.

We mostly had a decent night's sleep, and while I awoke a number of times, I still felt fine afterwards. My exhaustion cold is gone. I didn't think it was viral.

Road
maintenance
Crossing
pipeline
Paralleling
pipeline
After a liesurely breakfast, filling the bikes' tanks, we set out.

Gravel
vanishing
point
Tundra,
pipeline,
& loose dirt
Twenty miles out of Coldfoot, we lost the pavement. Fortunately it would return a number of times, though each time it reverted back to gravel or dirt I assumed it wouldn't come back again. But to our delight, the northern half of the Dalton Highway wasn't as gruelling as we'd thought.

Muddy road
Helmet cam
photos the
photographer
There were sections where the gravel was deep and loose, causing an unsettling wandering of the front wheel. Some had the inclination to ride 65 mph (105 kph), though I generally kept it to 50 mph (80 kph), and slower when the road was more challenging. Some of the initial dirt sections had been recently rained upon, which kept the dust down. While nice, it did get a little slippery in sections. Still, that was a welcome alternative to it actually raining on us. As I say, we've been lucky. No rain or snow on us, no snow or ice on the road all the way to the top.

Caribou
Bikes on
Atigun pass
while pipe
goes under
The scenery was beautiful the entire way, and it changed occasionally. It started out on the lush side when leaving Coldfoot, but transitioned to a tree-less tundra almost without notice. "Hey, when did the trees go away?" Many times I've been above treeline, but that was always due to elevation. This is the first time I can recall being north of the treeline.

The "critter count" resumed today- We saw a ton of caribou (mostly a single bull with a varying number of cows),
Mountain
goat & kids
on Atigun Pass
some of the guys saw a young grizzly bear, and there were mountain goats (and little bitty kids) on Atigun Pass.
Caribou
In the photo, look carefully just up the hill from the big goat, and you'll see two tiny kids.

We've been crossing paths with some of the same people occasionally. Two Polish guys we'd met a couple of days ago kept showing up, and the guy riding an old BMW R850GS (named "Das Rat") seems to be CAMPING in Deadhorse. I can't imagine doing that. The wind and the cold would be horrific.

My filthy
KLR
Wow.
Just Wow.
The ride was fairly uneventful, at least until we'd crested the biggest pass through the mountains. After having climbed 4200' / 1280m from Coldfoot to the 4775' / 1455m of the pass, things started to change. Paul's rented BMW developed an electrical problem, necessitating his changing to one of the spare KLR bikes. Funny, the bike had been COMPLETELY covered in mud, as it was towed behind "Jethro," the support truck.

THIS is the
main road?
Muddy
but
driveable
Light rain
makes
messy roads
As we descended the mountains towards Deadhorse and Prudhoe Bay, it got progressively colder. Now, a general rule is that as one gains altitude or elevation, each thousand feet (305m) higher means a 5 degree Fahrenheit temperature drop. Simiarly, each degree north latitude means a 5 degree drop. While we were heading north, we weren't changing latitude that fast. It should have been getting warmer! All we can think is that as we approached the Arctic Sea, the wind coming off of the snow, ice, and water was chilling everything and everyone.

Franklin Bluffs
We'd heard horror stories of trucks on the Dalton. "Signal, slow down and pull over and stop. wave, and let the trucks go by." Otherwise, they won't slow down, and the risk of being hit by rocks thrown by their tires is high. To ensure goodwill, I always gave the trucks a wide berth, and had no issues. No trucks tried to pass me in my direction, nor did I pass any that way either. The only trucks I saw were going in the opposite direction, and then, there were only a dozen or so on the whole road.

Stark
landscape
I didn't bundle up as much as I could have, and for the most part it worked out fine. In addition to my regular pants and overpants, I'd added silk long underwear bottoms. But that was the only difference. With even one pair of my normal socks, my feet were fine, and my legs were fine. The fairing lowers I'd built did their jobs- They kept the cold wind from hitting my legs, though oddly, not the mud. From the knees down my gear is solid dirt. A couple of times the bikes have needed to have all their lights cleaned off so they can be seen. These bikes are FILTHY.

Arctic
tundra
The last 50 mi / 80 km of the trip were REALLY cold. I mean, positively "Arctic!" My hands were losing their dexterity, though not to the point of being dangerous. As luck would have it, about that time the gravel got deeper and looser and a strong crosswind picked up. Perfect- Just at the time when our hands were at their least effective. Naturally, my helmet cam batteries were about drained at that point, so I pulled over to change them. Taking off my gloves to do it was necessary, though possibly a mistake. WOW, that was cold! It didn't help my dexterity.

Prudhoe Bay!
(not where we
stayed though)
No spills!
I pulled into Deadhorse earlier than most of the team, though I had forgotten in which lodging we were to stay. I spent 45 minutes getting fuel, riding down every road in the "town," and visiting every lodge to see if we were staying there. Naturally, our destination was the last one I could have tried, and the furthest out of town. We didn't actually stay at the Arctic Caribou Inn, but I couldn't resist taking the photo anyway. As for the fuel fill-up, evidently there's some rule that rubber catch pans must be placed under every tank being filled. Clearly they don't want to risk any fuel getting onto the ground.

Caribou
Still, a great day! Lots of animals, great scenery, and two prizes: Finishing the Dalton Highway, and making it all the way to Deadhorse, the furthest north one can drive in North America. We're not technically able to ride to Prudhoe Bay itself, by decree of the Homeland Security Agency. We'll have a bus tour of the oil plant tomorrow, which will give us access to the water (a mile or three away).

Speaking of water, my friend Brady wants me to do more than wade into the Arctic Sea- He wants me to completely dunk into it. Brady, I'm here to tell you that you're out of your mind! Doing so would be completely, wholly, totally insane, and would only serve to invite a premature demise. I'll get my feet in, but that's it!

My GPS is getting more intelligent- It shows -:-- for each sunrise and sunset. There isn't one of either!

Total riding distance today: 240 mi / 386 km   Running total: 4776 mi / 7686 km

Stay tuned...

-K

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